New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda: Afcon - Saluting the Unsung Heroes

South Africa — THE 2013 Orange Nations Cup is in its final stretch this week. And what a ride it has been!

Of the 16 countries that were drawn for the tournament, four have been left to battle for Africa's most prized asset.

The last two weeks have been filled with drama. There were thrilling matches and all played in world class stadiums -yes even the Mbombela that has been castigated for its poor pitch. There has been plenty of warmth from the locals that will guarantee the tournament lives long in the memory.

But then, the event would not have registered the sort of success it has so far, had it not been for the army of volunteers that worked tirelessly throughout to keep everything running smoothly.

From the team bus drivers to teenagers escorting fans to their seats, about 10, 000 volunteers were the bedrock on which this tournament was built.

They have played a vital role assisting various departments such as accreditation, marketing, media and transport.

The welcome desks at airports, train stations and hotels that greeted fans as they arrived were all manned by the volunteers. The hospitality teams, anti-doping units, stadium helpers and media assistants - their contribution was enormous.

This volunteer process began last year when the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) in conjunction with CAF requested applications for helpers. The ability to speak English, Arabic and French was an extra bonus.

Over 20,000 applied, with a majority interested in helping out in an area they viewed as a future career.

Some were motivated by the chance to watch games while the others as a means of survival as each was guaranteed R200 ($25) per day on top of daily lunch and refreshments.

For the selected candidates -aged above 18 -a week's basic training followed at which they were instructed in everything from first aid to their precise roles.

By the time the opening game between South Africa and Cape Verde was played, every volunteer had been thoroughly instructed and taken through numerous dress rehearsals.

Throughout the tournament, the white army has worked with near military precision to ensure that the fans leave South Africa with an abiding memory.

On Friday, two days before the final, they will receive commemorative prizes and will be treated to a mega bash. They deserve it!

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